5 Minutes with Lizzy Vartanian Collier

Nestled at the crossroads of East and West, Armenia is a small mountainous country, rich in culture, history, tradition and legend. Despite more Armenians living outside of their homeland than within its borders, the Armenian identity and connection to the land endures. For many Armenians, Armenia is a mythical, magical place, one that we experience through photographs, music, nursery rhymes and food. 

This month, we sat down with guest curator, art writer and founder of Gallery Girl, Lizzy Vartanian Collier, who welcomes 6 Armenian artists to the AucArt roster. 

Where are you from and where do you consider home?

I grew up on the fringes of South West London and I definitely consider London home, although my heart is always at rest in Lebanon and Armenia too, as my family is Lebanese-Armenian. 

 How has your upbringing (if at all) impacted your work?

My parents actually met at an art gallery, and my dad is a journalist. I grew up going to museums and galleries, while also spending many weekends and school holidays at newspaper offices, so it’s probably not such a surprise that I am an art writer. A lot of my work has focused on the Middle East and the Caucasus too, so I suppose having roots in Lebanon and Armenia has also influenced the projects that I have been involved with. 

What inspired Gallery Girl?

I started Gallery Girl as a way to document the exhibitions I was seeing just before I embarked on my Art History degree in September 2011, little did I know that I would still be Gallery Girl a decade later!

What does art mean to you?

This is a really difficult question to answer, and I think it changes every day. But, to put it simply, art means being to express visually what words can’t.

What did you want to be when you were little?

When I was little I wanted to be a ballerina, a hairdresser and an astronaut all at once. I have been dancing since I was three, I have super long hair, and always have my head in the stars, so I think I am almost there!

Most inspiring exhibition you’ve visited?

I was first inspired to write about art after seeing Twombly and Poussin: The Arcadian Painters at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in 2011. Seeing such seemingly different artists exhibited together in such a historic space was truly overwhelming. Cy Twombly is one of my favourite artists, and I guess I have to thank the exhibition for almost a decade of Gallery Girl.

If you could spend the day in a painting which would it be?

I’m completely obsessed with Alymamah Rashed’s work at the moment. I’d love to spend some time within her world. Her paintings merge textual references with research into spiritual and emotional intelligence, producing gorgeous works on canvas. 

Favourite art genre?

I wouldn’t say I have a favourite genre, but medium wise, it would be painting. 

Which countries’ art scene should we be paying more attention to?

My mother is from Beirut, and I think we should really be paying more attention to the Lebanese art scene for many reasons. Firstly, because of the breadth of talent coming out of Beirut, from all generations, from young artists like Nadim Choufi, to established names like Ayman Baalbaki all the way to Mona Saudi. And secondly, I would ask that people pay more attention to the Lebanese art scene because it is under threat. Following the devastating explosion last year, coupled with the crippling effect of a political system and economy in decline, Lebanon’s local artists need our support more than ever.

Most inspiring person you’ve met?

There are so many people who inspire me within the art world, but I would really like to say Sueraya Shaheen. An artist, Sueraya is also Photo Editor of Tribe Magazine. It is Sueraya’s energy that I find most inspiring, she always lifts others up and really champions new voices and talents within the art world in a genuine way, which I think is so important. 

Greatest goal you’ve accomplished?

I beat anorexia when I was 21 to get my degree and I think that’s pretty badass. 

Best piece of advice you’ve been given?

This isn’t really career or necessarily art world related, but a long time ago my dad told me “don’t give your heart to people, make them earn it.” I think you can apply this to lots of situations in life. When I was just starting out I was probably a little bit too eager to try things out and I let people take advantage of me. Now I try to only work with people who treat me with respect, but I can admit that it’s not always so easy, especially in the art world.

Most exciting story you’ve covered?

This is a really hard question to answer, since I’ve covered so many interesting stories. But, given that I’ve just curated an Armenian sale, I would say this piece I wrote for The Art Gorgeous about women ruling the Armenian art scene. There are so many inspiring women working to promote art and culture in and with roots in Armenia, and it is so important for me to champion them.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m about to take law school exams so unfortunately most of what I am reading is quite far removed from the art world at the moment! However, I did read A Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles at the beginning of lockdown which I couldn’t recommend more. It is about a man on house arrest at the Metropol Hotel in Moscow, which seemed quite fitting. It was also extra special because I have stayed in the same hotel many times. 

Which art world trends are you following at the moment?

Just like everyone else, I am playing close attention to the ever-increasing digitisation of the art world, though I cannot honestly say that I am a fan. 

What style of art do you like to be surrounded by?

I wouldn’t say there is one particular style I like any more than any other. As I change and grow as a person, so do my likes and dislikes in all aspects of my life, including art. I will say though, I do tend to be drawn to work that has an interesting story behind it, whether that be a cultural influence or a reference to history, myth or legend.  

What are you enjoying about the art world currently?

To be honest I am struggling a little with the seemingly completely online nature of the art world at the moment, and I am enjoying the fact that London galleries will be able to open in a matter of days!

What advice might you give to someone looking to buy their first artwork?

Trust your gut. 

To put it simply, art means being to express visually what words can’t.